'You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown' staged by Scarborough Music Theatre
Now onstage at Scarborough Village Theatre
A polished and glistening opening night performance delivered by a gelled ensemble of players who get the humour and nostalgia of the piece.
What a terrific choice Scarborough Music Theatre made in selecting ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’ to open its 2022-2023 fall season. The COVID pandemic has wreaked so much havoc on our lives these last two years so hearing such heartwarming and nostalgic statements as “You have a little brother who loves you” and “Pleasant day, pretty sky…” certainly put a spring in my step as I exited the Village Theatre.
For a musical that has no running narrative throughout and must rely on slice-of-life vignettes and song and dance numbers to carry through the two-hour-plus running time, this tightly knit ensemble of players delivered a polished and glistening opening night performance that left a smile on my face last night and this morning. I saw a few children in the audience, and I would most certainly recommend this production as a family outing.
What makes this story work so well in the twenty-first century and worth a visit to the theatre (or perhaps a repeat if you’ve seen it before)?
‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’ explores our humanity through the eyes of kids. For me, the musical becomes nostalgic to watch adults playing these kids and the emotions we thought would destroy us back then.
Sergio Calderon finely directs the production with subtle nuances of compassionate care because he states in his Programme Note: “Peanuts has had a global and universal impact on people of all ages and backgrounds. These characters have been a part of our lives and have made an indelible mark on our cultural landscape.” William Corcoran’s set design made me feel as if I had entered the world of Saturday or Sunday morning comic strips thanks to the muted brown squares on the stage floor, the bright red colours of Snoopy’s doghouse and the terrific two-dimensional cut-out designs of the six characters.
What worked extremely well visually at the top of the show was having the characters stand by their cut-out designs as they spoke to the audience about Charlie Brown. A slight (and remember it’s only that) quibble - we don’t see these designs again. So much work has gone into the design of these cut-outs. It’s the two-dimensional characters that will remain permanently etched in our minds and I was hoping we might have seen these cut-outs once more near the end of the show.
Music Director Miguel Malaco magically captured the humour, the heart, and the nostalgia within the lyrics. I’m a stickler if I can’t hear the lyrics to the songs and I believe it’s important to point it out if need be. That doesn’t happen here thankfully so kudos to Sound Designer Sidnei Auler. Sabrina Hooper’s choreography becomes a natural extension of the song lyrics, and it made sense to me the characters would move in that particular manner.
Heather Hyslop’s costume designs are picture-perfect three-dimensional re-creations from the Peanuts series. Some of Maunique Jacklin’s oversized props are faultless – for example, Charlie Brown’s oversized lunch bag he places over his head when he thinks the little red-haired girl is looking at him from across the yard during lunchtime. David Buffham’s outstanding lighting designs impeccably highlight the comic strip’s three-dimensional world the audience has entered.
The cast remains primo.
Each of the six characters is given their own moment to shine alone on stage for their 11 o’clock number.
There are also some priceless gems of choral ensembles worth noting - ‘The Book Report’ and ‘T-E-A-M (The Baseball Game). While the former offers some amusing comments about the state of education, the latter makes a sometimes-ironic commentary about what happens in community effort by children, and the grownups who play them. Community effort does not necessarily mean everyone will abide by it.
Hayley Finewax is deliciously crabby and boisterously loud as perennial fussbudget Lucy Van Pelt. As her highly intelligent little brother, Linus, Aidan Ross becomes that necessary eternal optimist we all need in our lives when daily life struggles are a burden. But even optimists still need their familiar sense of comfort in knowing things are going to be all right. That’s why Ross hits the various levels of understanding this in ‘My Blanket and Me’. Yes, Linus knows he will grow out of his security object, but human nature tells us that sometimes we look for things to provide us comfort when life’s burdens become heavy.
Jeremy Cook’s piano prodigy Schroeder comically reveals his commitment-phobic nature as he intently believes that music must always come first in his life. This is solidly revealed as Finewax serenades him in ‘Schroeder’ and the look he gives her as he finishes playing the piano says it all.
Patricia Mongeon’s Sally intently and firmly becomes that sibling who wants to come out from under the shadow of the older brother and show how different she is from him. She knocks it right out of that proverbial ballpark with her second act number ‘My New Philosophy’. Chandler Coish is a serenely lovable Charlie Brown who does his best not to allow his emotions to get the better of him even though he is aware of his awkwardness among the others. I heard so many heartfelt ‘awwws’ from the opening night audience (yes, I’ll admit I didn’t say it aloud but I heard myself thinking it) that, if we could, we would have gone up on the stage to give Coish a hug.
As an energetic and agile Snoopy, Charlie Davidson becomes riveting to watch at the top of Act 2 with his World War One Flying Ace in search of The Red Baron. Absolutely magical to watch Davidson on top of the doghouse roof that moves up and down and side to side while we imagine we are flying along with him in his Sopwith camel. Davidson’s eleven o’clock number ‘Suppertime’ becomes a viable Las Vegas revue solo act which then turns into a revival meeting at a Gospel church. Incredible fun to watch.
Final Comments: An absolute treat of a welcome back gift of theatre to the community. This ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’ is one you must try to see.
Running Time: approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes with one intermission.
‘You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown’ plays until November 19 at Scarborough Village Theatre, 3600 Kingston Road, Scarborough. For tickets call the Box Office at (416) 267-9292 or visit theatrescarborough.com for more information.
YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN presented by Scarborough Music Theatre
Based on the comic strip Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Clark Gesner
Additional Dialogue by Michael Mayer
Additional Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Producers: Olivia Jon and Dot Routledge
Director: Sergio Calderon
Music Director: Miguel Malaco
Choreographer: Sabrina Hooper
Costume Designer: Heather Hyslop
Properties Designer: Maunique Jacklin
Lighting Designer: David Buffham
Sound Designer: Sidnei Auler
Stage Manager: Amanda Cook
Orchestra: James Quigley/Adam Weinmann, Gemma Donn, Ezra Sherman, Matthew Wong, Tyler Reznick
Performers: Chandler Coish, Hayley Finewax, Aidan Ross, Patricia Mongeon, Jeremy Cook, Charlie Davidson